SPA STYLE: LUX ‘N LAXED vs. K-TOWN BEATDOWN

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Still or sparkling? Deep tissue or relaxation? Eucalyptus mint or ginger lemongrass? Being spa-spoiled and pampered is often a special treat – but an unusual experience with an accessible price tag can satisfy just the same. High-end vs. no-frills – both end with guests feeling great, rejuvenated and ready to take on the world.

Oceanside Cedar Sanctuary at Ancient Cedars Spa at Tofino’s Wickanninish Inn

For those who fancy top-notch service and over-the-top attention to detail, the Ancient Cedars Spa at the Wickaninnish Inn is located ocean level on the coast of Vancouver Island in Tofino, British Columbia. A space truly connecting guests to nature, the system of five elements is integrated both indoors and outdoors for pure tranquility. The spa’s design offers a truly enchanting experience. A visit to “The Wick” means a brand of hospitality and pampering in a way only a Relais & Châteaux property can provide. Upon arrival, spa guests are welcomed with an aromatic journey featuring locally crafted essential oils by the Tofino Soap Company with a foot soak in beautiful copper tubs lined with a bed of pebbles in an outdoor oasis. While being lead through meditative breathing, the sounds of waves crashing on the rocks nearby is complimented by the fresh ocean air and a cup of herbal tea. Nutrient-rich, wild organic seaweed is hand-harvested right from these waters and used in treatments including an Organic Sea Facial and West Coast Sacred Body Polish. Book a couples massage for a side-by-side treatment in the Cedar Sanctuary – the view is breathtaking.

Willow Steam Spa at Fairmont Banff Springs – Indoor European Mineral Pool

Fairmont Hotels & Resorts are home to award winning Willow Stream Spas – a brand reflecting the energy of its surroundings. Desert, sea, mountains or city – each spa’s offering is inspired by local traditions, plants, herbs and minerals. In Alberta’s Rockies, The Willow Stream Spa at Fairmont Banff Springs is reminiscent of the hot springs that beckoned travellers over 100 years ago with a mineral pool considered to be the heartbeat of the spa. At any given time of the year – the focal point is a gathering spot for those with tired muscles from summer hiking or golf to winter ski and snowboarding. Arrive at least an hour early and enjoy the pool, waterfall treatment whirpools, multiple steam rooms, saunas and eucalyptus inhalation room before a treatment. “Spa voice” is encouraged while staffers proudly present co-ed spa lounges (both indoor and outdoor) with majestic views and an Asian-themed light fare menu offering pre or post-treatment. Thick, luxurious layers of linens atop the extra wide massage beds are impressive while attendants are bright eyed and accomdating. The Willow Stream brand is accustomed to creating exceptional experiences and this location delivers.

If much wants more, take a drive from here to Invermere along what is loosely dubbed the Hot Springs Trail. Radium Hot Springs is Canada’s largest natural hot spring, first officially discovered in the early 1800s. The valley’s other large natural hot spring is located 25 minutes south of Invermere at the Fairmont Hot Springs Resort with a swimming pool, diving pool and hot pool. Above the resort, find an original bathing hut and pools built back in 1957. More remote is Lussier Hot Springs with three natural pools tucked into the mountainside at Whiteswan Lake Provincial Park. A great reward after a rustic dip comes with a mountain-luxury stay at the Copper Point Resort and Spa.

We go as readily from from super luxe to natural rustic to urban cultural spa treats with ease and excitment.

On the opposite side of the spa spectrum (and not for the faint of heart) is the traditional Korean Spa experience. Talk show host Conan O’Brien explored Los Angeles’ Wi Spa with actor Steven Yuen documented a hilariously accurate account of the traditional and very good for you, Korean scrub. A traditional “Jimjilbang” refers to the common, co-ed area at the center of Korean spas. This is where friends and families gather on a regular basis to relax and recharge, much as they did in ancient Korea, when most homes didn’t have bathing facilities. It’s very social, all ages welcome and typically accessible 24 hours a day.

Wi Spa Los Angeles Salt Sauna

Korean spa culture is not for the modest. Upon arrival, expect to be provided with a t-shirt and shorts for use in common areas and during co-ed times. During soaks, saunas and treatments, you will be nude. The scrub attendants will be nearly nude. Don’t even think about bringing a bathing suit – you’ll be asked to remove it. If you’re lucky, the towels will be bigger than a washcloth. If really lucky, they will provide a bathrobe. Leave shoes (and pride) at the door because this spa experience leaves no stone left unturned. There won’t be any banter or small talk during treatments – it’s all business at Korean spas. Every inch of your body will be scrubbed (with no mercy) and you’ll like it. A lot.

Los Angeles’ Wi Spa, is one of the more luxurious “K-spa” experiences with state of the art facilities. Five specialty sauna rooms (Bulgama, Salt, Clay, Jade and Ice) with detoxifying, rejuvenating minerals are best experienced in progression. The Clay sauna can only be described as the Ball Room at Ikea but the balls are large, heat-clay marbles and the room is a convection oven. After time in each sauna varying in humidity and temperatures – take a dip in one of the jetted tubs to get skin primed for removal, then mentally prepare for the 35-min “Buff Body Scrub”. This isn’t gentle – in fact, if it’s a first time visit, try to get through the treatment without thinking about how you’re paying a petite but VERY strong woman to scrub every inch of your body and not giggle. The awkward feeling of invasiveness goes away when fresh, glowing skin is unveiled and realization of how great this treatment is for overall health and well being.

In NYC, Juvenex Spa is a hidden gem in the middle of K-Town featuring a Jade Igloo Sauna made of 20 tonnes of semi-precious stones, a baked-clay detox sauna and Japanese-style soaking ponds filled with Sake, Ginseng, Kombu Algae and Tea Tree. Although a bit dated, the common area is warm and welcoming, while nooks and crannies offer a bit of privacy during busy times.

Sake soak at Juvenex Spa NYC

It’s ladies only from 7am-5pm then co-ed from 5:00pm-7am, so it’s the perfect way to spend the last few hours in the Big Apple before catching an early flight. The treatment rooms are modest (while some guests aren’t) and the scrub/massage combo are sheer bliss. Here, a robe is offered (along with a disposable paper bathing suit if a soak is in mind) and guests can bounce from sauna to steam to soak until it’s time to escorted to a not-so-private room where just a curtain separates each guest. Large tubs of hot water are in each space and buckets are used to rinse off remnants of a very thorough scrubbing on a plastic lined massage table with mitts that aren’t as abrasive as Brillo Pads but pretty close. Ironically, it feels SO good (someone snoring a few rooms away causes a chuckle between the Korean-speaking attendants who casually chat with each other during the treatment) and the finale is vigorous but relaxing shampoo and a full-body moisturizing rub.  The service was cheerful and attentive (even at 2am!) and between treatments, a cup of hot tea is is offered at a sitting bar where snacks and refreshments are served. In NYC, if Sex in the City isn’t in the cards, have a scrub in the city instead. It’s an amazing way to end a visit and get set for a lengthy plane ride home.

More luxury favourites include: Spa Grande at Grand Wailea on Maui (currently under relocation and renovation), Sante Spa Le Germain in Calgary, CHI, The Spa at Shangri-La in Vancouver, Le Blanc Spa Resort in Cancun and Na Ho’ola Spa in Waikki.

More no-frills favourites include: New Feet Spa in Toronto, Imperial Day Spa in San Franciso,  Seoul Zimzilbang in Toronto, Bella Luna Spa in Seattle and Aloha Sauna & Spa in Honolulu.

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